'Concerning’ Indian Covid variant now in UK has two 'escape mutations' that could dodge antibodies

A “CONCERNING” Covid variant from India has two "escape mutations" which could help it dodge antibodies.

The strain has been detected in 77 Covid cases in the UK so far, Public Health England revealed on Thursday.

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Officially named B.1.617, it is not clear how the variant got into the UK or when.

But with any variant, it has the potential to cause chaos if it spreads too far, as was seen with the Kent variant over the winter. 

B.1.617 has been described by some scientists as a "double mutant" variant due its characteristics.

In simple terms, a "variation" is a type of the coronavirus. Each one has "mutations" which are like features.

The B.1.617 variant has two mutations – E484Q and L452R – which for the first time have been seen in a singular variant, B.1.617.

Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said this is “causing people to be concerned”.

The worry is that when combined, these two mutations are far more infectious or able to evade immunity from either prior infection or vaccination, as has been shown to be the case with the South African and Brazilian variants.

But not a lot is known about the two mutations at the moment.

Prof Hunter described the two mutations as “escape mutations”.

It means they could help the variant escape antibodies in the blood which are there to fight off coronavirus infection.

“There’s laboratory evidence that both of these are escape mutations,” he said.

“Basically, applying what we know about other human coronaviruses would suggest that this is going to be even less controlled by vaccine."

“But we don’t know that for certain at the moment.”

He said two of these mutations together could be “a lot more problematic” than just singular escape mutations in the South African and Brazilian variants.

Both these strains contain a mutation called E484K, which has been shown to dodge antibodies.

Prof Hunter told The Guardian: “It might be even less controlled by vaccine than the Brazilian and South African variants."

He added it was “not surprising” that the variant has come from India because case rates are alarmingly high.

Variants typically evolve in places where the virus is circulating at high levels.

It comes amid reports there are at least two cases of the Indian variant in London.

According to the Evening Standard, these are in Harrow and Brent.

Dr Duncan Robertson, of Loughborough university, who has been analysing the spread of Covid-19, told the paper: “We do not have full information on the 77 cases the variant under investigation first detected in India. 

“We do know that at least one case has been detected in Brent and at least one case has been detected in Harrow.

“It is clear that variants under investigation and variants of concern are in England and that detected cases are rising.”

The capital is already facing an outbreak of the South African variant, with at least 44 cases detected in recent weeks.

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